Last-minute birthday plans caused me to miss most of the 2nd half of the Chicago Bears’ preseason finale at FirstEnergy Stadium and the Cleveland Browns. Fortunately for me and many others in Bears fandom, the half I watched was simply outstanding. This might be the best dress rehearsal from the starting offense that I have seen in years.
There is no beef for me to grill regarding the game this week. Instead, I have one big thought to get this party started.
The Bears’ O-line was ready for a full-fledged bar fight
.@ChicagoBears @justnfields gets hit late; and the Bodyguards come running to protect the QB…it’s the way it has to be. Great early sign in this game #DaBears #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/dwdIzfpIsy— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) August 28, 2022
This is awesome. Justin Fields took a cheap shot to the dome, and his O-line immediately crashed through the doors of the Salty Spittoon. Sam Mustipher charged downfield to greet the Browns defenders with his exceptions to the play. And, we can’t leave out the tight ends as well. Ryan Griffin had beef with the guilty party — Jacob Phillips — once chauffeuring him away from the scene. Everybody looked ready to start an all-out brawl on just the 2nd series of the game.
We rarely saw this at any point during the 2021 campaign. Teven Jenkins almost went full Spartan against the Vikings. Only for that effort to be chastised by Germain Ifedi. I’m not sure what Juan Castillo taught his guys from 2020 through 2021; however, the vibe from the unit was just soft as a whole. Kudos to new Bears O-line coach Chris Morgan for instilling a bouncer’s mindset into the trenches.
Oh, and speaking of Teven Jenkins, take a gander at the top right corner of the screen during the play. He decided to say “what’s up” while looking for work. In this case, he saw a chance to clean shop against Larry Borom’s assignment. He literally launched said player back into Borom, who caught him and didn’t elect to throw him to the turf. I like to call that “intelligent violence.”
Top Gun: Justin Fields
Before getting carried away - Cleveland did elect to rest their best players on defense. I shared Justin Fields’s elation when Myles Garrett was given the night off.
Even so, Justin and the Bears’ first-team offense was brilliant. In addition, OC Luke Getsy has earned a heaping amount of praise for his work so far. Unlike previous weeks, the coaching staff used this game as a true dress rehearsal. All week long practices and meetings were held as simulations and exercises for the days heading into the main event.
QB1 ended his night with the following stat line - 14 completions on 16 attempts, 156 yards, 3TDs, and a 146.7 passer rating. This wasn’t a bunch of dink-and-dunk plays either. He looked deep fairly often, with each of his TD passes turning into real beauties. For the sake of indulgence, here are all three of those tuddies.
My personal favorite:
The best one was the last one:
A good argument can be had between his first and third touchdowns as to which one was better. The first score to Ryan Griffin was the more impressive throw, but number three was the more impressive decision.
I toasted ESPN’s dedicated QB guru Dan Orlovsky last week on his excessive criticism and borderline hater stance on the Bears. He has a great breakdown of the first score below for anyone interested. At the end of the day, I’ve got to be fair to all parties.
Here is why I view the 3rd touchdown as Justin Fields’ best play of the night. Khari Blasingame was wide open in the flat for an easy dump off. Ryan Griffin was also open for a brief second if Justin wanted to attempt a tougher throw. Instead, while rolling out to his right, he noticed how coverage broke off for Blasingame and Griffin. All while knowing he has plenty of time thanks to good pass protection.
The opportunity arrived. Cole Kmet was left all alone, and Justin Fields then gave the go-ahead for a deep shot. He signaled Kmet to sink on his route, and Justin flicked the ball straight into his tight end’s hands. That was flawless execution. It’s also a testament to how much the game has slowed down for Justin. It was a simple play design that turned into points.
Oh, one more note on this subject. Earlier in the week, we saw former Bears’ OC Mike Martz share his bearish thoughts on Justin Fields and the offense. Meanwhile, we all remember him as the guy who did the following.
- Ran Greg Olsen out of town and convinced then-GM Jerry Angelo that tight ends were a third tackle
- Called endless 5-to-7 stepped drops behind the league’s worst O-line
- Rarely adjusted their game plans to fit the talent or to the opposing defense
- Felt Roy Williams could recapture his early form and become a top receiver in the league
It is poetic justice that two out of three touchdowns went to tight ends. I’ll let former Bears QB Smokin’ Jay Cutler speak for all of us here.
Welcome back, David Montgomery
There’s no question that Justin Fields stole the show on Saturday night. However, a major caveat to his success was the execution of passes designed with play-action as the base principle. You cannot run an effective play-action based concept without the defense respecting your threat on the ground.
David Montgomery assured that to be an easy task accomplished. His overall stats were boring, if not paltry, under the strictest standards. It’s also a small sample size regarding the potential impact #32 will have on the Bears’ offense. And it will be a big impact.
Monty ran with such a high level of anger each time he had the ball in his hands.
His best run of the night — a 24-yard tote that was wiped out due to a holding penalty — showcased what he brings to the table as the primary back in the stable. There is no mistake when I say the tough one-cut running style of David Montgomery shall be the most powerful engine to aid the passing game Luke Getsy is building in Chicago. His success on the ground will make things that much easier for everyone else.
Dante Pettis, your table is ready
Weeks ago, I felt a good competition was developing between Dante Pettis and Tajae Sharpe for a hefty role at receiver. Everyone knows Darnell Mooney will be the top receiver heading into the 2022 season. Cole Kmet will command a large chunk of targets for himself from the tight end position. The question remained - who else? Who else is going to step up alongside Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet?
We might have our answer. With Tajae Sharpe being out for an extended stretch during camp, Dante Pettis made for himself an impressive case for the job. Equanimeous St. Brown started with the ones as usual and did get a big completion from Justin Fields early in the game. Yet Dante Pettis continuously stood out and flashed on several key moments.
So much so that, if this is a competition between himself, Sharpe, and ESB, I feel Dante has won. Overall he finished the night with three receptions on four targets, two of which resulted in first downs, and the touchdown that featured him running what appeared to be a whip route. He also filled in as the punt returner with rookie Velus Jones Jr. being held out.
Here are Justin Fields’ full highlights from last night. Notice how many times Dante Pettis comes up. He’s quietly worked with the ones frequently throughout camp.
Dante has a real chance to stick on the final roster. His combination of strong effort, good blocking on the perimeter, and clean route running has earned him the right for playing time with the starters. He also stands as a decent backup option as a returner on special teams.
I still expect the Bears to be fairly active on the waiver wire for help at receiver. Just don’t sleep on the former 2nd round pick from San Francisco having a chance at a revenge game on week one. Perhaps he’ll have an extended chance to bounce back in his career.
HITS Principle keeps on hitting
There weren’t too many standout performances on defense this week. As has been the case throughout this preseason, Matt Eberflus isn’t looking at the individuals. He’s looking at the whole unit.
Overall, the whole unit did their jobs reasonably well. No sacks were registered, but pressure was produced throughout the night, and they did get a nice interception in the first half. Like the Browns, a few of the Bears’ best defenders were rested last night: Roquan Smith, Robert Quinn, Jaquan Brisker, and Jaylon Johnson. Unlike the Browns, the Bears' backups held the Browns' starters in check. Kyler Gordon flashed once again, too.
Justin Jones also wreaked havoc against the Browns on the ground game. Cleveland was without their two best backs and top receiver, and they just didn’t move the ball much at all. At least not until shenanigans began to take place during the second half.
Once everyone is back in the lineup, and there’s a good chance that’ll happen in week one, this looks like a unit on defense that will surprise people this year. I’ll also include Special Teams here because, much like the defense, they have played solid football.